It’s time to hop back across to Africa, this time to Kenya for the next in the One Wild Life +10 interview series. Next up is Nick Moon.
I first met Nick in Nairobi in 2006 when I interviewed him for the original book. He was one of the first interviews of my trip and I remember clearly his warmth, generosity and deep interest and expertise in development. We talked for hours. I liked his irreverence and humour too, underpinned by a willingness to tear up the imaginary rulebook combined with his approach to giving things a go and experimenting with new methods. This attitude has continued over the years.
Back in 2006, Nick, alongside his co-founder Martin Fisher was running kickstart.org, a social entreprise which was developing low cost farming equipment or ‘appropriate technologies’ to kickstart rural development. They had developed an oil press, a building block press and a manual water irrigation pump- marketed as ‘The Money Maker’! That organisation is still running, now focused solely on water pumps and has gone on to support 200,000 families to create successful farming businesses and help over a million people out of poverty. (More impressive stats and information can be found on their website here)
But five years ago, Nick felt it was time to move on, support others, share his expertise and expand the range of his projects. He became grandfather too, and a new father! Never one rest on laurels, I’ll let Nick tell you more …
How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on?
Has it been 10 years? Blimey. Some 5 years ago I thought that it was time to do something new. I felt that Kickstart was well and truly on its way and didn’t really need me any more, and in any case I was getting stale. Starting something from scratch and building it up is one thing; managing a large established organization is something else. So I reckoned it was time to make a move. KickStart was and is in very good hands under co-founder Martin Fisher.
In 2011 my eldest daughter Marion Atieno Moon, who had graduated with a business degree in 2006 and had been working for big corporates, had just decided to start a brand-new for-profit social enterprise, Wanda Organic, here in Kenya. Wanda finds and brings the latest breakthrough soil health and fertility solutions to smallholder farmers. We agreed that my experience with KickStart would be very helpful in developing this new organization, so that’s what triggered a new chapter.
I am now the executive chairman of Wanda, and heavily invested financially (I sold the house) and emotionally in its growth. I am currently busy helping her set up the local production of bio-organic fertilizers in Kenya and innovating distribution and marketing strategies to develop awareness and build and serve demand.
Working with my own daughter has its challenges of course, and she is the founder, the boss, so I have to be sensitive to that. Accordingly I don’t work full time at Wanda and keep busy in other ways.
I had accepted an invitation in 2010 to mentor a young visionary Kenyan, Eddy Gicheru Oketch, as he built up an organization he had started in 2008 – in the wake of the horrifying period of “Post Election Violence” in Kenya – which sought to help Kenyan youth understand and overcome the twin pressures of poverty and the cynical manipulations of self-serving politicians who were pitting them against each other by inciting violence across tribal/ethnic lines. My advice to Eddy was that it is near impossible to love thy neighbour if you are hungry and jobless, so there can be no lasting peace and reconciliation without a certain measure of prosperity. In 2012 he asked me to help in developing and restructuring his organization to assist youth to identify economic opportunities and set up group enterprises which create employment and social value. I did what I could. The organization is now known as Ongoza (means ‘to lead’ in Swahili) and doing pretty well. We recruited a great CEO and built the team, developed the program, and are expanding outreach. I am the Chairman of its Board.
I have always had an interest in social and cultural, as well as economic, development and so am also busy – again at Board level – with The Theatre Company of Kenya, which is all about promoting skills and professionalism in the Performing Arts. We train actors – loadsa raw creative talent here – and nurture the creation and production of local performance. One notable high point for us was when our troop performed a Swahili adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” (Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa) at the Globe Theatre in London.
What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years?
See above – there is never a dull moment!
I suppose the big thing was taking the step out and away from KickStart five years ago – although once a founder always a founder, and I remain on the Board there too, and ready to expound our Theory of Change to anyone who will listen! This has meant attendance as a delegate or speaker or moderator at different high level conferences addressing economic or agricultural development in Africa – World Economic Forum meetings, Skoll World Forums, Global Entrepreneurship Summits, African Green Revolution conferences. Trips to USA, UK, France, Switzerland, China, India, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda and other places. These have been interesting and useful (sometimes) in terms of high level policy formulation, but can also be described in some ways as “low lights” given that such a lot of time and money is spent on talking and intellectualizing, propounding and debating, passing lofty resolutions and the like. But a lot of this waffle does not get turned into practical action, or at least not as quickly or effectively as it should or could. Even so it has been a great privilege and pleasure to meet all manner of truly remarkable people at these events. One thing I have realized here is that a lot of truly good work is done by people who do not seek to aggrandize themselves, who steer clear of the limelight and just get on with stuff.
Talking of modest people getting on with stuff and not making a fuss, another highlight for me at a direct personal level has been to watch the development and growth of the 30 or so “OVC” (orphaned and vulnerable children) – almost all girls – whom my wife supports and raises at her children’s home in Kakamega County, Western Kenya. These are girls who were once victims, and/or at serious risk, of sexual abuse, violence and other forms of exploitation. One (actually a boy – well, a young man now) will graduate in clinical medicine in December. Another has a degree in actuarial science. Another is studying economics and statistics at the University of Nairobi. It is wonderful to see them grow up and go out there into the big bad world, confident and capable, after starting off at such severe disadvanatage. www.vumilia.org
What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years?
Challenges? One is that there are so many things to do and so it can be tricky to decide what to focus on. Another big challenge in this part of the world is the high levels of corruption in government, although maybe this is just a perception based on the blatant almost unashamed nature of corruption, cronyism, nepotism, greed and so on here; I have a feeling that you will come across this everywhere, only in other parts of the world it is better disguised. Related to this, one also comes across negative people, negative attitudes rather too often – people who seem intent on why an idea or plan cannot work, rather than how it can be made to work. Overcoming or bypassing negativity takes time and energy which might otherwise be used more productively
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t get yer knickers in such a twist.
(with Kenzo Shane)
What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?
The grim and grumbly things include:
- Climate Change denial and how the Fossil Fools are so resistant to renewables. Fracking about, horizontal drilling, tar sands and shale gas and so on, whereas there are proven preferable energy alternatives which can now be implemented at similar financial/economic cost and very much lower environmental and social costs. That’s a big one.
- The pharisaical sanctimonious self-regard of the banking industry.
- Industrial-chemical agriculture’s dominance in food supply and distribution. Bad for biodiversity and good food.
- Global corporate capitalism’s unwillingness to really recognize or accept any other value beyond shareholder value, (mealy-mouthed lip service not enough)
- The growing gap between rich and poor – among nations and people within nations
- Religious extremism and everything that follows on from it
- Mendacious rabble-rousing media
- Governments serving the interests of big industries not people
- A growing shortage of empathy and compassion among the comfortable and prosperous
Reasons not to give up in the face of all this?.
- Science and technology continually advancing, with new solutions/innovations in energy, health, agriculture, industry and even finance, coming along thicker and faster than ever before
- The growing understanding, especially among young people, that we can change things for the better if we really want to, and work at it.
- The nascent movement toward a post-capitalist era where values go beyond the simply material or monetary to include social and environmental values
- Immigration and transmigration of people generally – stirs things up in a good way, prevents atrophy and stagnation
- Communications technologies and social media enabling people to be informed and get organized better, faster.
- Plenty of courageous changemakers and status-quo challengers emerging in all spheres of life and everywhere
- Empathy and compassion alive and well and growing among so-called ordinary people
- Human ingenuity, adaptability, resilience, creativity, innovativeness, invention alive and well despite threats and opposition from the dinosaurs.
Over the last 10 year the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces?
As implied above Social Enterprise seeks to upset equilibria, complacency, stases. It has evolved over the last 20-30 years for sure and done a great job in developing new (or rediscovered?) perceptions of value, and an approach that demonstrates how social and environmental benefits can be offered by a commercial entity for whom monetary profit and economic gain are not ends in themselves, but rather the means by which the other values can be sustainably delivered.
Even so, while a growing number of people and markets are learning and adjusting to these new paradigms, no cigar yet. There is need and room for a lot more social enterprise. I would hope that the theory of a ‘million little pieces’ will prevail, the realization that loads and loads of relatively small, local community-facing, social enterprises can have an aggregate impact for the better. And move away from the obsession with growing monolithic, monopolistic enterprises of any kind. Or we will fall into the ‘Too Big To Fail’ mindset/trap again where sheer size is taken as an indicator of worth. Boo to that.
Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process?
What else is there to do? And besides, its fun. How do I sustain myself? Largely by avoiding the question, and expecting that things will turn out OK. Avoid gloom and pessimism. Glass is ¾ empty? No mate, its ¼ full.
What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path?
Just get on and do it. Don’t worry about the risks and costs. “Nothing ventured ..” and all that. Just as long as your prime motivation is not money, nor fame. They might come, or not. But if you don’t enjoy it any more, stop it, and do something else. And don’t get too full of yourself.
Thank you so much Nick. So brilliant to hear your updates. Thank you for your continued work and optimism. It spreads.
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